We don’t in fact “know” that the election will be close. Nor do we know that it will be nasty, or that it will turn on unpredictable events. To the contrary, if I had to put money down now, I’d bet that Mitt Romney will win an easy victory after a relatively predictable, issue-focused, and not-too-nasty campaign. Indeed, I’d bet Romney will win precisely if he runs such a campaign. But if he allows the race to degenerate into name-calling and gotcha gimmicks, he could lose. Democrats are better than Republicans at the small and nasty stuff.
Romney needs, over the next six months, to convince some number of swing voters he can and should be the next president. The easiest way to do this is by . . . behaving like a president. If you want to seem presidential, be presidential. It shouldn’t be hard. Romney already looks presidential, after all.
But looks aren’t enough. Romney has to behave presidentially—more like a leader than a campaigner. Let Obama lower himself by acting as campaigner in chief rather than commander in chief. Let Obama be shrill. Let his campaign be petty. Meanwhile, Romney can lay out his governing agenda to restore our solvency, put us on a path to prosperity, attend to our security, and safeguard our liberty. Romney can visit the troops in Afghanistan and our ally Israel. Instead of giving rebuttals and prebuttals to Obama’s speeches, Romney can give serious speeches about the Constitution and the Supreme Court, the case for limited government and the threat of bankruptcy and penury, about undoing Obamacare and what will replace it. President Obama has failed to pass a big tax reform, failed to master the federal budget, failed to reform our out-of-control entitlements. The next president, Mitt Romney, can explain that he will step forward to do all of these things.